With "Ant-Man" in theaters, it's officially official. We are two full phases into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You know what that means, right? Time to judge 'em all.
Much like the Baskin Robbins stopover at the heart of "Ant-Man," the Marvel Studios movies come in all different kinds of flavors, and vary greatly in terms of how they taste. The bad flavors are few and far between, and even those flavors aren't so bad; there is no vomit-tinged Bertie Botts bean in the bunch, in other words. Even attempting to rank the Marvel movies is a bit of an exhausting exercise, because it's so damn personal. We've done it before, we've done it before that, and now we're doing it again… and it's my turn to put this helicarrier down on the ground without causing too much damage. No pressure.
So here it is, the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it presently stands, in order of my personal preference. Your mileage may and probably will vary, so hit the comments and tell me how Earth's mightiest superhero movies shake out for you.
Tony Stark's second outing has its defenders, and with good reason. It's the first appearance of Black Widow. It's Don Cheadle's first Marvel appearance, and the debut of the War Machine armor. Sam Rockwell rules as Justin Hammer, and deserves to get called back for a future appearance. Beyond that? It's fine, and fine's not going to cut it here with the Marvel movies.
You won't make me angry if you have Edward Norton's Hulk at the bottom of your list. I get it. It's an obvious outlier, starring a Bruce Banner who isn't Mark Ruffalo, and tangentially connected to the rest of Marvel at best — although Thunderbolt Ross hitting "Civil War" changes things a bit. Personally, I enjoy it more than I enjoy "Iron Man 2," and I think it deserves more props than it gets… but second-to-last is all the props I can give it.
Everybody wins whenever Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston share the screen together. We win a little bit less here than in the first "Thor." It's less new, it's a little less fun, and it's really less fun for Christopher Eccleston, who looks like he's having a pretty lousy time as Malekith.
Don't get me wrong. I love "Iron Man 3." Tony Stark fighting for his life in a Shane Black Christmas movie? Yes, please. The Mandarin finally making his Marvel debut, except not really? Hilarious, but I know some of you didn't like it. The fact that the third "Iron Man" ranks this low is a testament to the other Marvel movies. Nothing more. This is tough stuff!
Hello, Asgard! Marvel's first trip away from Earth was a huge building block for everything that's come since, and all the cosmic madness still to come. Hemsworth and Hiddleston are always winners, as previously discussed, and their big debut in the MCU is a huge moment not just for this multi-movie franchise, but for Hollywood at large. Maaaaaaybe we got a little carried away with the dutch angles? But otherwise, it's hard to get mad at Marvel pulling a "Crocodile Dundee," albeit with a thunder-cracking alien with killer abs.
Things looked very grim for "Ant-Man" after Edgar Wright walked away from Marvel with weeks to go before production. Things aren't so grim right now. "Ant-Man" is great. It's not big (and that's appropriate), and it doesn't move the MCU forward the same way as some of these other movies (although maybe? Jury's still out on that), but it's sweet, it's kind, and it's different. Hats off to Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, director Peyton Reed and everyone else involved for making this unassuming little movie about an ant-sized hero.
The first appearance of Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes, HYDRA, the MCU in the 1940s… you name it. It's an important centerpiece for Marvel, and one that proved the "Avengers" concept could work. Before the movie's release, a lot of people wondered how a star-spangled hero like Cap would translate to the big-screen. Turns out, he translates just fine.
It's the inferior "Avengers" movie, but it's still superior than most superhero movies out there. It's one of the weirdest and most jam-packed action movies in recent history, somehow introducing concepts like Wakanda and Vision without too much effort. It was a bit too jam-packed for some viewers, perhaps, but Joss Whedon's second ride with the Avengers absolutely worked for me.
The big bang of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an artifact that deserves all the reverence in the world from fans of these movies, if not exactly the crown jewel anymore. Still, RDJ's first ride as Tony Stark is fun as hell and revolutionary for the time. Put the movie on right now and try not to smile. You won't succeed.
Before the movie hit, many onlookers were looking at James Gunn's space epic as "Marvel meets 'Star Wars,'" but it turned out to be so much more. It's a movie with a tone and universe all its own, full of vibrant texture and oddness unlike anything else out there. It's the movie that turned Chris Pratt into a megastar, and the movie that gave us Dancing Baby Groot. It's a thing of pure beauty.
Joe and Anthony Russo make their Marvel Studios debut here, the first of four planned films from the sibling duo. Many people think "Winter Soldier" is the best Marvel movie of them all. I wouldn't argue it. It's fast, it's tense, and it courageously puts its characters and concepts through their paces. The Russos proved that Marvel is in fantastically safe hands moving forward. And as much as I do love this movie and could watch it over and over again on an endless loop, there's one other Marvel movie that will always own my heart…
Say what you will about the wobbly first act. Make fun of Cap's costume all you want. This is still the movie that proved Marvel's mettle. The fact that Iron Man and the Hulk could coexist in the same universe, and have such brilliant chemistry at that, was nothing short of miraculous. An unbelievable amount of credit belongs to Whedon, whose words and vision and passion for the characters made "Avengers" work, when there were so many reasons it could have blown up in Marvel's faces. Without "Avengers," we aren't where we are today.